Yesterday, the Sudanese Government announced its acceptance of the proposal for a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping operation to be deployed in Darfur after agreement was reached during talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the mandate, structure, components and tasks of the force.
The 15-member Council "calls for the timely and full implementation of the agreement," Council President Johan C. Verbeke told reporters after being briefed on the agreement by the UN's top peacekeeping official, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
The hybrid force will be among the issues discussed when the Council meets with officials in Khartoum in the coming days, as part of its week-long visit to the region.
Speaking to reporters following his monthly luncheon with the Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the agreement a "milestone development" that should be appreciated and encouraged.
Asked to respond to comments to the effect that, once again, "the UN, the Security Council, your own office is being taken for a ride by the... Government of Sudan", Mr. Ban urged people to look at the progress made over the past few months. "We have been making progress and we now I think are moving towards the right direction."
Calling Sudan's announcement a "significant step forward," Mr. Guéhenno told reporters "any deployment of force always has to be based on a political agreement, where all the key actors are onboard with that deployment. And any deployment of force that doesn't meet that criteria... indeed has a tough challenge."
Elaborating on the elements of the agreement, Mr. Guéhenno said there was agreement between the UN and AU on the force's mandate and on the joint appointment of a special representative, who is now going to be the head of the existing AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and will then be the head of the hybrid mission.
Meanwhile, work is ongoing on the rules of engagement and concept of operations, he noted, adding "we will be applying UN rules and procedures, but in the framework of a joint UN-AU effort."
Asked about reports that the mission will be predominantly made up of African troops, he said "we are going to make every effort to preserve the African character of the mission, that's the agreement. We think that we'll be able to do that."
At the same time, Mr. Guéhenno added, "our key goal remains helping the people of Darfur, having a force deployed as quickly as possible with the right capacities."
The upcoming rainy season "is not going to make things easy" for the timing of the deployment, he noted. "But we would want to deploy the heavy support package which is a foundation for the hybrid [force] in the coming months, so that come the end of the year, we'll be in a position to have the deployment of the hybrid starting."
The hybrid operation is the third phase of a three-step process to replace the existing but under-resourced AMIS, which has been unable to end the fighting in Darfur.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others displaced from their homes since clashes erupted in 2003 between Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups.